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SUICIDE RISK OF STRESSED-OUT BANK WORKERS; DEATH SPARKS UNION WARNING.

Stressed-out bank staff are at risk of killing themselves as workloads rise and jobs are cut.

The warning from finance workers' union BIFU was made after the suicide of a young banker.

David Stewart, 23, of Edinburgh, hanged himself after the Bank of Scotland accused him of stealing pounds 300 from a cash machine.

The coroner at the inquest was critical of bosses for referring the matter straight to head office.

He said staff would regret that only one person, David, filled the cash machine and that he should have been checked at home more often after his suspension from work.

Jacqui O'Neill, of the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union, said: "Other bank workers may have taken their own lives.

"Pressure is increasing while the number of workers are being cut."

BIFU estimates 150,000 jobs in the sector have been cut since 1990.

The success of telephone banking and debit cards led to many job losses by sweeping away piles of paperwork.

Deregulation of the industry allowed a much wider range of companies, like supermarkets, to offer financial products.

At the same time, the BIFU's workload has increased to record levels.

Last year, they won a record total of pounds 1.5million in compensation against financial institutions.

Jacqui O'Neill said: "Staff are working a lot of overtime just to get work done.

"Staff are monitored all the time to make sure they are working as hard as possible. In a call centre the chances are all your calls are taped and you are only supposed to take so long with each caller.

"The number of key strokes on the computer is measured to see how much work is being done."

BIFU claims problems suffered by workers ultimately affect customers.

She added: "The number of complaints to the banking ombudsman has reached record levels. Queues are longer and mistakes with accounts are more common."

The Bank of Scotland came in for criticism from its own staff in a 1996 survey. Many hit out at excessive overtime, staffing levels and security.

David had a pounds 440 overdraft when money disappeared from the cashpoint machine at a Bank of Scotland branch in Reading, Berkshire.

He was suspended pending a disciplinary hearing on January 28 but eight days before he was due to appear he hanged himself.

In a suicide note, he admitted breaking bank procedures but denied stealing the money.

His father, Malcolm, is a manager with the Bank of Scotland in Dunfermline.

A spokesman for the bank denied they had any problems with over-stressed staff.

He said: "We have checked this out ourselves with BIFU and they say the issues in the survey are no longer a problem."

Asked about the death of David, he said: "It's tragic for all concerned."
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Author:Laing, Peter
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 30, 1998
Words:460
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